Merida and Los LLanos

Trip Start Feb 14, 2011
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Trip End Jun 15, 2011


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Where I stayed
Posada Yagrumo

Flag of Venezuela  , Andes,
Thursday, March 3, 2011

The bus to Merida (a relaxed University town in the Andes) took a lot longer than exepcted (14hours in total!) and as it climbed higher towards the Andes the weather got wetter and the clouds lower.  Eventually we arrived at Posada Yagrumo in the centre of Merida at about midday.  As it was raining and the clouds were so low we couldnīt see the other side of the street, we decided to relax in the posada for the rest of the afternoon.  That evening we went for a lovely meal in a restaurant around the corner and watched tv in our room for the first time in 2 weeks.

The next day the weather was better so we walked around town which has a young student community and felt very safe with a nice atmosphere.  We visited the Coromoto ice cream shop which is in the Guiness Book of Records for having over 900 flavours of ice cream!  Including ham and cheese, calamari and meatball… we played it safe however, choosing vanilla chocolate chip, lemon, strawberry and chocolate.  That afternoon we finalised our plans for the weekend.  It was Carnaval so we wanted to stay in Merida and enjoy the festivities, however, due to the bad weather lots of the street parties and bull fighting had been called off, so we decided to take a 4 day trip to Los Llanos instead.

Los Llanos is a vast tropical grassland plain situated to the East of the Andes, and is renowned for its abundance of wildlife.  During the rainy season it is flooded up to 1 meter and becomes more of a wetland.  We visited in the dry season where the plains are dry with numerous pools of water where the animals and birds congregate, so it is ideal for spotting wildlife.

On our tour we were lucky to share the experience with a nice group of people; Tina (a German journalist) and her boyfriend Rudolph, Shannon and Sam (Australian couple, both engineers) Andoula (Swedish student studying in Merida) Aude (French teacher working in Merida) and Kassim (French student).

We left in the morning by jeep along the winding roads through the Andes.  Having just taken our Malaria tablets and the speed the driver drove around the corners made us feel pretty sick.  The jeep passed through lots of beautiful little towns created when the native Indians fled from the Spanish, which all begin with īMucuīwhich means īplace ofīin the local dialect.  We visited the chapel of San Rafael de Mucuchies a small stone church built by Juan Felix Sanchez , and stopped off at the village of Los Nevados which overlooks the highest mountain in Venezuela, Pico Bolivar (5007m), which has some breathtaking scenery.  Lunch was spent at a little restaurant overlooking the Andes, before driving down into the Barinas region at the base.  We stopped off at a small market at the side of the road, were they were selling lots of different types of fruit, and we had a refreshing fruit salad drink, and a man was very keen on Tasha getting a picture of his famous Venezuelan bread! As the sun went down we entered the Apure region and began to spot lots of birds in the pools of the plains on either side of the road, it began to rain again and the roads got more trecherous as our driver kept having to swerve out of the way of huge potholes, and leaping frogs!

Tash was slightly disappointed on arrival at the camp by the fact that our īroomī (concrete block with 4 hammocks) did not have a light bulb or mosquito nets, but she quickly forgot this when we shone our torch into the darkness and saw hundreds of  caiman eyes glinting at us! Rancho Grande is the oldest camp in Los Llanos and is unique because of its proximity to the River Caņo Guaratico, and its interconnecting rivers, all of which means that the camp sits right on the edge of a large, crocodile infested lake! We spent meal times sitting at the dining table watching the animals around us.       .

The evening was spent eating meat from a cow killed that day and watching a local singing and playing guitar while his little son used maracas and started the Tradicional Joropo dance and music).

After an uncomfortable night (for Tash) in the hammock we awoke early and travelled by sitting on top of the jeep – avoiding overhanging branches, some with thorns - to the river Caņo Guaratico where we boarded our dugout canoe for a water safari.  We were amazed at how many birds we saw: black skimmer, scarlet ibis, black vulture, maguari storks, king fishers and various herons including a leopard one to name just a few!  We also passed caiman and iguanas sunning themselves on the banks, families of capybaras and as the boat sped past, turtles jumped into the water.  At one point we circled and circled for what seemed like ages and eventually got a glimpse of the horny snout and shell of a very rare prehistoric turtle called Mata-Mata. More circling excitingly revealed pink dolphins which randomly jumped out of the water so we just got a view of their nose, back and dorsal fins.

Further down the river our guides pulled the boat close to a caiman on the shore and before we really knew what they were doing, slipped a lasooed rope over its neck and dragged it to a nearby tree where they tied its jaws.  One of the guides, Ken, then lifted up the poor caiman and let some of our group hold it.  James had a go, and it thrashed around a bit while Ken pointed out numerous facts, and then thankfully let it go back into the water.

After a tasty lunch and a siesta we headed out on a jeep safari across the plains where we encountered our first Anaconda (only a small one) but it was beautiful. As the sun was going down we saw another vehicle up ahead (members of our camp) had spotted a Giant Anteater. A few members of the local family ran after it and chased it back in the direction of us. This was the only way to get a good look as they are surprisingly fast! In trying to avoid those chasing it the Anteater ran right in the direction of Tasha (who has a video of this). We travelled back to camp as the sun set and had another amazing meal which included Piranha. We were generally very well fed, the quality of food and portions were definately a highlight when compared to our tour of Angel Falls which was nearly double the price.

On our second day in Los Llanos alter breakfast we set off to the river, this time to do some Piranha fishing. Unfortunately we both didnīt have much luck. The hooks seemed quite big and generally the piranha took the bait (fat) off the hook. We felt constant little tugs of the line and may have not been quick enough when whipping it back to the bank which was the required technique. Tash caught a small fish and the best James did was to catch a large stick! Altough we both never caught anthing others had more luck and we were demonstrated the sharpness of the teeth as Ken held a leaf between a particularly big ones jaws and it was pierced instantly. After this we rode horses back to camp. James was particularly disapointed at how short this journey was as it was supposed to be a horse safari and have he had known would have preferred to continue fishing for piranha. The horse he had was very stubborn and refused to trott to Jamesī frustration. The horses were obviously only used to doing this route and following a leader. It would have been nice to have had someone find out who in the group was experienced and which horses were compatible for them. This with Tashaīs disapointment on the first night were the only complaints we had.

In the afternoon James did some filming around camp and alter lunch we set out on the jeep to find a bigger Anaconda and more animals. Along the way we stopped to pick fresh mangoes and guayaba from the trees, which were very sweet.  Early into the drive our guide Ken spotted a honey bear (small anteater) in a tree which was barely visable. We all got out for a closer look and went directly under the tree which it was resting in.  It feeds on termites, ants and honey. Whilst driving along straight roads with lakes and marsh land either side we spotted a big anaconda track going across the road. We went to explore the marsh it had gone to, after a little while Ken called off the search alter seeing a mapanare – poisonous snake! So decided it was not safe which was a shame as from the tracks this anaconda looked pretty big. Shortly after getting back in to the vehicle however, a 3 foot anaconda which had caught a duck on the edge of the opposing marsh was spotted. We all rushed to see the snake constrict around its meal and slowly consume it by eating it head first. James got some good video of the process and we all felt very lucky to have seen this, although were conscious that the snake would have been stressed with everyone standing over it as it tried to burrow under the vegetation and into shallow water. Stress can lead constricters to regurgitate their food which we were worried might happen, but fortunately it didnīt, well not in our presence anyway.  The surrounding lake had many birds and caiman and was the perfect setting to end our tour.

We made our way back to camp by jeep for our last night, and both sat on the roof to get the best view of the sun setting, but this meant we got hit in the face by loads of insects! and early the next morning we set off for Merida which took the whole day.

After a day resting in Merida unfortunately things took a turn for the worst… after a rough night Tash woke up on Thursday with a fever, shivering, aches, diarrea and a headache.  A day later James got the same symptoms, which ruined our plans of hiking into the mountains and staying in a village overnight.  The weather was bad so we werenīt too disappointed.  But the frustration grew as every day we woke up hoping to be able to leave for Colombia but couldnīt as we felt too ill.  We were at an extreme low as were trapped in our hostel room, and couldnīt even get out of bed to get proper food for ourselves.  On Monday we finally decided to walk to the hospital where James asked for an English speaking doctor and we were seen right away.  Tash was put on to an IV drip as she had low blood pressure and both our blood was taken (Jamesīmethod was being stabbed in the finger with an unusual-looking instrument, and as he let out a scream so did the nurse!).  We found out we had a virul infection and were given rehydration salts, paracetamol and a drug for vomiting (all for free!).  By the next day we had pretty much recovered and awoke feeling relieved that we could finally leave for Colombia!

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Comments

Shannon and Sam on

Glad to hear you guys are feeling better. We just reached Cartagena this afternoon - from what we have seen so far it looks a beautiful city.

james.tash
james.tash on

Thanks guys, We arrived in Santa Marta yesterday and like it a lot. Went to Playa Grande beach in Taganga today was really nice. We are going to Cartagena in a few days. We forgot to get your emails, can you post them up on here. Cheers

Shannon & Sam on

email is
shannon.kissane (at) gmail.com

Cheers

M&D on

Hope Santa Marta is wonderful and relaxing and gives you time to chill and regain strength before further travels. All our love XXXXXX

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